By Madhu Rathnayake, Save the Children’s Communications Officer in Sri Lanka
The scene reminds me of Venice. But this is no holiday. The boat we’re travelling on is carrying us along lanes and roads which were once used by cars. Heavy rain – the most severe in 25 years – has hit Sri Lanka, causing disastrous flooding in 19 districts. Over 100,000 have been forced from their homes; tragically, at least 100 have died.
It’s the end of my first day on the emergency response mission, navigating roads that have been cut off by flooding, and it’s been tough.
We started out at Kaduwela in Colombo, one of the areas that has suffered most. Our team, which was bolstered by 20 volunteers set off to visit four temporary shelters which had been set up in schools, a community centre and a temple.
We arrived to see children idling here and there – some without their parents. But when we set up play areas for them, they started to get involved. Some listened to volunteers read books for them, while others sang and played or started drawing.
Immediately, the atmosphere changed – children who’d been idling a few minutes before were suddenly active, while parents who’d been curious about how play could help at a time like this told us later how they’d noticed their children’s mood changing.
Displacement is a new thing to most of these families – but as one mother told me, it was a relief for their children to have a safe place where they could be happy and stay protected.
At times like this, children are hardest hit. However, some are showing remarkable resilience. I met Shehan, who is 12, in one of the centres. “I’ve lost all my books,” he said, “but I can always rewrite them.”
But these are worrying times. The people at the temporary shelters fear water levels are not decreasing. There’s enough food and water, but things like clothing and sanitary items are in short supply, and many fear what will happen when they return home.
Through tears, one mother told me: “we have lost everything we’d worked for. We have no clue how we are going to start our lives again after we go back home.”
It’s a sobering thought, and one that I carried with me as left, determined to do everything I could to help these amazing and strong children and their families, and make sure their dreams aren’t washed away with the water.
We don’t know when the next disaster will hit. Our Emergency Fund means we can act swiftly to reach children. Donate today to provide a lifeline to children caught up in emergencies that don’t hit the headlines.